Get Sylvia L. Quinton talking about Prince George's County, and girlfriend gets excited.
"I am Prince George's County," the 38-year-old lawyer says, borrowing from the theme of County Executive Wayne K. Curry's first campaign for office in 1994.
Quinton grew up here, attended public schools here, went to college on a full-tuition scholarship from legislators here, moved here after law school in Philadelphia and recently quit her federal government job to bring her skills and many resources back here.
So, you can believe that Quinton is talking from her heart when she says she always wanted Prince George's to have its own festival, a suburban version of the District of Columbia's Unifest or Taste of D.C.
Since last year, she and the organization she heads, Suitland Family and Life Enrichment Center, have been working with a coalition of mayors and Prince George's Community College to make it happen. The result is Summer Health Fest 1999, set for 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Aug. 7 at the community college campus in Largo.
"Hopefully, it will be a unifying festival in Prince George's County," Quinton said. "Our Unifest, Our Taste of D.C.--but focused around a theme."
Using the theme "Collectively Working Together for Healthier Lifestyles," the festival will be much more than food and fun. It will give Prince George's a much-needed opportunity to focus on health.
Quinton and Tanya D. Madison, a lawyer in the District, began planning last year for a festival in Suitland to raise money for the area's revitalization project. But after consulting with organizers of the Washington festivals, the women decided to take their idea countywide.
They were joined by the community college and eight mayors of municipalities in the county. Several health-related companies have signed on as sponsors, and Del. Rushern L. Baker III (D-Cheverly) is chairman of the event.
The festival already has drawn the attention and support of the U.S. surgeon general's office, which recently launched a national program to find ways to end the health disparities between African Americans and people of other races. The Prince George's festival may be used as a national model of how a community can come together for that purpose.
It's no secret that African Americans tend to die sooner of some forms of cancer than others and that African Americans are disproportionately affected by other diseases, such as AIDS. Health professionals say part of the problem is that a large segment of the population does not have access to adequate health care and often lacks appropriate information.
Those are matters that should concern people of all races everywhere. But if all goes as planned, Prince Georgians will come together at the festival and launch the first of a series of countywide health programs designed to change public policy and encourage residents to live healthier.
All festival participants will be asked to complete a survey, prepared by a biostatistician at the county health department. This is important, Quinton said, because it will help determine what the health issues are in the county and guide the leaders in setting priorities.
For Madison, vice president and general counsel of Health Fest, the event is personal.
"What makes this very personal for me is, I have watched over the past 20 years my mother be challenged by lupus," said Madison, who grew up in the county and lives in the District. "I can't help but think of what may have happened if she had had the information I have. I practice wellness."
The festival will kick off at 8 a.m. with a brisk, one-mile "Walk for Life," with expected participation from individuals and church, school and community groups. Then, walkers will gather for a healthy breakfast and awards program to recognize community groups with exemplary programs that help improve the quality of life for the county's youth.
From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., participants can receive free health screenings, including blood pressure, cholesterol, dental and eye exams, and attend workshops on a variety of health issues. The workshops will include hand-dancing lessons, yoga and meditation, bicycle and car safety checks and teenage rap sessions.
All the while, vendors will sell food, crafts and other wares at booths on the campus. At noon, the workshops will pause for a two-hour variety show that will feature local talent. Health professionals will be on hand to lead discussions in some of the workshops.
"The energy is going up and down through the communities," Quinton said. "This thing has blown beyond anyone's imagination in terms of what it could be."
Quinton and Madison say all of the partners have worked hard to create an event they hope will become synonymous with Prince George's County. Quinton, who worked 12 years as a public health attorney for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, used her contacts to get the surgeon general's office involved.
"I think for me, the issue is Prince George's County," she said. "I love Prince George's County."
Her eyes lit up.
"I think it's a phenomenal place to live," she added. "I really want us to reach down into the riches we have here."
For more information about Summer Health Fest 1999, call 301-386-4337.
To comment or suggest a story idea, feel free to write me at 14402 Old Mill Rd., Suite 201, Upper Marlboro, Md. 20772; send me an e-mail at frazierL@washpost.com; or call me at 301-952-2083.
CAPTION: Stacey K. Crooks, seated left, Tanya D. Madison, standing, Sylvia L. Quinton, center, Annette C. Wedderburn, standing, and Lisa V. Byrd, right, helped organize Summer Health Fest 1999.